Title: Gift for Lady Korana 2006
Fandom: Lord of the Rings, post-trilogy
Disclaimer: I don't own these characters or their world. This is fanfiction and I'm just playing for fun, not making any money.
Summary: A sequel to Cold Defeat, in which things get a little worse for all concerned.
Notes: Written for Lady Korana as a holiday gift. Enjoy and sorry it's so late!
Gift for Lady Korana 2006
"Right here," Gimli said reassuringly, his voice traveling across the room just as well as the sound of Legolas blowing his nose did. "You need some ale."
Gimli carried the mug of warm ale across the main room of the inn where they were staying, careful not to spill a drop. If they were to be snowed in for an extended period of time, every bit of ale was precious for soon they might have to do without. The room was quiet but not entirely empty. At tables, a smattering of men sat talking, eating and drinking. Most of them were the men who had been part of the search parties to find Legolas and Aragorn. And most of the search parties had returned.
Aragorn was up in his room at the moment, presumably getting some rest, but Legolas was there in the main room where Gimli had deposited him upon their return. The elf sat on top of one of the tables, with his feet on the bench meant for sitting, wrapped from head to toe in three thick blankets. The room was dim but the fire warm and bright. And Legolas was sitting just a few feet in front of it to take full advantage.
Legolas pulled his hands out from beneath the blankets to take the mug. Instead of drinking, however, he continued to stare straight forward into the fire. The flames were mesmerizing to his tired eyes, but at this moment, he barely saw them. He blinked once, and then his eyes closed for a longer period of time. The sneeze was free, wet and sharp, but made him shudder. "eh-Ershhh!" And with that, the drink sloshed over the rim of the mug.
Gimli was long past the reaction of sighing by now, but it was hardly favorable to see. Not only was the elf growing more sniffly and sneezy the more he defrosted, but he had spilled some of the ale. First thing was first, and Gimli withdrew one of the handkerchiefs he had procured by asking all the men. He touched it to Legolas' nose, which was beginning to quiver again. "ehhh-eh-hehhhh..." Eyes closed and nostrils flared, jaw trembled and breath caught. "eghKishhh! erChihhhhh!" Gimli gently massaged Legolas' runny nose through the handkerchief until Legolas' eyes opened again in silent communication that he was all right now.
Then Gimli lowered the handkerchief, folded it discretely around the wet portions, and stepped up on the bench to sit beside Legolas on the tabletop. He bent over, extending his tongue, and pressed it against the skin of Legolas' hand. The ale tingled against his tongue as he licked it all off. He slowly took one, then two, slender fingers into his mouth and sucked. Then he snuggled against Legolas' side, rubbing his rough cheek into the blankets. "Drink," he whispered. "Drink while it's still warm."
Legolas drank, and the warmth of the ale and the hot dwarf at his side was comforting, but the silence between them ate away at him. He swallowed and sniffled, turning his head towards Gimli. "Please, melon nin, do not blame Aragorn."
Gimli growled gruffly.
"He did not give me this cold; for a while, he did not even know I had it. He did not break my ankle. And he was not the one to insist we stay out and finish our chore."
"He did not insist you return, either," Gimli said shortly. "Your health grew worse and you injured yourself. And then..." When he trailed off, Legolas winced.
"Gimli, he and I are no longer lovers. I do not know how to make that any clearer." He transferred the mug to one hand, gripping it tightly by the handle. Then he reached out and took hold of one of Gimli's hands, squeezing tightly. "I am yours completely. Sniff! Such as I am. However..."
"Here it comes," mumbled Gimli.
"However, he and I are still good friends. We are still close- all three of us."
Gimli did not speak. Only a few years had passed since they had been brothers in arms, since the bond of the fellowship held them fast together. Gimli could feel it fading away even now, but he clung to the friendships that came from it, the way he knew the others still tried to. He could not fault the elf for it; he loved Aragorn as well. He simply did not want Aragorn to interfere with his sick elf. "He put you at risk, nonetheless. I am allowed to be angry with him." He squeezed Legolas' hand back, then dropped it to caress the elf's cheek and ear. Legolas tilted his head, allowing Gimli's fingers to trace the ridges and the point, warmth flowing through him at the touch. "And I am allowed to request he let me be the one to care for you now."
Legolas sniffled badly and pressed his sleeve to his nose. "This cold is big enough to go around."
"Perhaps, but you are not. You are mine." Dwarves did not like to share, especially when it came to their mates... and especially when it came to their mates' ex-lovers.
Aragorn had not simply gone upstairs to rest; he had practically been banished there by the dwarf. Aragorn had maintained that he could help Legolas- he could make some tea or help with the fire or bandage the ankle- but one look from Gimli had told him that he had overstayed his welcome where the elf was concerned. As soon as he was able, Gimli had slipped away to speak with Aragorn in private. "I know you are angry with me for... everything," Aragorn had begun. "But I can help take care of Legolas."
"Aye, I know," the dwarf had replied, whispering so that their words would not go beyond the broom closet. "I know you have seen him through colds before, but I am here for him now. I can take care of his chills and sneezes now. And under the circumstances, I believe it best if you let us alone."
Aragorn had looked hurt. There was no way around that. He looked into Gimli's eyes for a long time, then he gave a nod. "I am sorry," he said.
"Aye, I know," Gimli repeated. "Now go get some rest. You look dead on your feet."
Aragorn had not been seen since, and Legolas and Gimli were awake late into the night now. It was unsurprising, considering what the man had been through. They both supposed he would sleep until morning. And, at the moment, that sounded like an excellent idea, as well. Gimli rubbed his hand up and down Legolas' back. "Are y'warm enough to go up to bed now?"
Legolas sniffled and nodded. "Only..." He sniffed again.
Gimli took the handkerchief and rubbed at Legolas' nose again. "Need to blow your nose?" he asked softly. Legolas shook his head. "All right then." He gave one more rub, refolded the hanky, and then readjusted the elf's blankets to be sure they would stay put during the trip upstairs.
"I can go on my own," Legolas told him. But Gimli shook his head and had already begun scooping the elf up in his arms. The stairway was narrow, so he had to walk sideways, taking it one stair at a time. The hallway was long, and twice Gimli paused to catch his breath before continuing onward. Finally they reached their bedroom in the enormous inn, and then Legolas was put right under the covers of their large feather bed which took up most the space in the room.
Gimli tended to the fire then stripped off all of his clothes. He and Legolas exchanged smiles as Gimli stood naked in front of the fire, the golden glow striking his skin. He gathered up all the unused handkerchiefs he had acquired and then climbed into bed with the elf. They snuggled up together under the covers and Gimli kissed him. "Would you be warmer with your clothes on or would you be more comfortable with them off?" Legolas chose the comfort option, relying on the hot dwarf beside him to keep him warm. And Gimli managed to tug the elf's clothing off while staying under the blankets.
Then he snuggled even closer to the elf. His cheek brushed against the smooth, bare shoulder, as he pulled the covers up to that level. He nuzzled his face into the elf's neck, scratchy beard and soft lips against the nape. Legolas made his usual soft sound of arousal, which Gimli called an elf-purr, and which Gimli found quite alluring. Even sick, Legolas was irresistible and Gimli was unable to take his hands off his elf.
"Gimli?" Legolas whispered, only a few moments after they had settled in. "I am sorry, but I feel like sneezing again." His voice was calm, quiet, but with an underlying urgency.
For a moment, there Gimli had forgotten everything but Legolas' body. But now Legolas' body was giving him a reminder of the situation. Gimli had stashed the handkerchiefs under the pillows and pulled one out now. He held it up to Legolas' nose with minutes to spare.
The tickle in Legolas' nose was light and evasive. "ihhh-ih-hehhh... hehhhhh... hehhh? Ugh..." He spent a lot of time winding up, with his breath racing, nostrils twitching, and eyes closing, only to have it amount to nothing. "ehh-hehhh... eh-yehh!" Legolas reached out and hugged Gimli tightly as the urge filled his nose, then shrank away again. "So sorry," he whispered, keeping his eyes tightly closed.
"Do not be," Gimli whispered back. "I have nowhere else to be and nothing better to do." Gimli knew perfectly well the silliness of claiming he would like nothing more than to snuggle in bed with a sniffly elf, but those words had the result he had hoped. The only thing more elusive than Legolas' sneeze was Legolas' smile, and this time Gimli was treated to both.
"Good," Gimli approved, rubbing the elf's nose again. "How about another?"
Legolas nodded, open-mouthed. "ihhhh-Hihshhh! HehhChihhh! ihhChihhh!" Gimli kept the handkerchief in place as long as Legolas' hand clutched his shoulder. "ehhh... ehh-gehhh... EHShihhh! hehShihh!" But when Legolas relaxed and made a face that told Gimli he needed now not to sneeze but blow his nose, Gimli refolded the handkerchief to a dry spot and held the cloth tight.
They did not speak after that. They both closed their eyes, silently hoping sleep would take them. The only time Legolas really slept was when he was sick, and then he was either sneezing too much to sleep or out like a candle. After the day he'd had, however, Gimli hoped they would both easily sleep for days.
Such was not the case, however. Sooner rather than later, Gimli felt Legolas tense up again. Gimli's limb felt heavy as he lifted his hand again to Legolas' nose. "ihh-thadk you-yih-ihhhhh!" Again, Legolas gripped Gimli's shoulder. "h'Choo! hehChuhh! ehhKShhh! ehhhhh-ihhhhh-Hshhh!"
The cycle went on for what seemed like hours. Every time Gimli felt himself nodding off, he snapped back awake at a sudden touch or a sharp gasp or even the start of a sneeze. He sneezed at Gimli a few times, by mistake, but more times than not, Gimli was prepared with a hanky.
It was hours later and early in the morning when Legolas felt the urge to sneeze and Gimli made no move at all to react, not even slow and sleepy movements. The elf looked down to find his dwarf was fast asleep. "Gibli?" he whispered. Legolas pressed a slightly curled finger under his nose. "Gib... I have to sdee... sdeeze..." Naturally, he had to sneeze. That was all he'd been doing since returning from the adventure in the snow. And Gimli had been so sweet to look after him. Now, however, Legolas eased the handkerchief from the sleeping dwarf's fist and held it to his own nose. "hehhhShrphh! Ihhh-Chrrphh!"
Utterly exhausted, Gimli managed to sleep through Legolas' sneezes until just after dawn, which was when Legolas decided he should get up for water and a bite to eat. His first step out of bed was one of intense pain. Gimli had allowed Aragorn to wrap up the ankle the night before, but it felt no better this morning.
In fact, it felt infinitely worse. He stood on his good leg, waiting for the sharp pains to die away. Then he hobbled over as far as the other side of the room before realizing that the warmth he had felt in bed was not just because of the dwarf and the quilts. Legolas held fast to the bureau as bright and dark mixed before his eyes. "Gibli?" he whispered with what little strength he had in him. He felt the world spin around him and fought to stay conscious.
This time, the dwarf heard the call and began to wake. Finding the bed otherwise unoccupied, he sprang right up and out. He dashed over to Legolas but not in time. The elf crumpled to the ground within inches of the dwarf's outstretched arms. Gimli's knees buckled at the sight and, kneeling on the floor, he lifted the elf's head onto his lap. "Legolas?" he whispered. Slowly, Legolas came awake and, slowly, his eyes focused on Gimli's. "Are you hurt?"
Legolas could not tell well enough to answer with any truth, for his whole body hurt in one way or another. There was an unnatural ache in his bones and his head. Even though he was lying on his back, his ankle was in pain. And his nose... was like a creek after a spring thaw. Somehow, however, he managed to shake his head 'no'.
Gimli lifted Legolas up again, cradling the elf tenderly on the way back to bed. "Whatever did you think you were doing?" Gimli asked. He laid Legolas down and clapped his hand over Legolas' forehead. "Burning up, as I thought." He took his hand off and wiped it on the blankets. The elf was more than hot; he was sweating. The elf's skin glistened in what morning sun made it through the thin curtains. "You need water. Or maybe some ale. I will bring food and something cool for your forehead."
"Gibli," said Legolas, yet again. "I odly deed a little helb. I cad breakfast with everyode dowdstairs." Once he had some water and clothes, he would be fine. Besides, some part of him wanted to see Aragorn. The man had not been sick or injured out there in the blizzard, but he had had his camp destroyed, same as Legolas, and he had been freezing cold. It would be good to see the king again and make sure he was all right.
"Absolutely not. You are feverish and-"
"Add I sbedt all dight id this bed," Legolas interrupted. The room felt as stuffy as his nose felt. "I deed sub air. Add I ab dot so sig-"
It was Gimli's turn to interrupt. "I am sorry, love. Could you say all of that again so that I can understand it?"
Legolas scowled and blew his nose in the time it took Gimli to get a glass of cool water from the washroom. "I wadt very buch to breakfast dowdstairs," he said, staring Gimli down.
Gimli caved almost immediately. What his elf wanted, his elf received. First, however, he managed to get Legolas to sit and drink water while he dabbed a cool, damp cloth against Legolas' chest and forehead. He couldn't help but follow that up with a few kisses before he and Legolas got dressed. Legolas selected clothing, but Gimli added a warm cloak because, although Legolas was feverish, Gimli did not want him chilled.
Being carried to the inn during a blizzard and being carried upstairs at night when few men were around were acceptable surrenders. Being carried around by his lover more than that was something Legolas refused to submit to. With Gimli in tow, he hopped across the room and halfway down the hallway before he got a bit tired. He stopped, leaning against the wall to catch his breath. It took longer than he had counted on. "ihhhh-hihh-Ehgshoo! ehhhChuhh!" Legolas snuffled wetly into his sleeve but accepted a handkerchief when Gimli forced one on him. Legolas' mouth hung open behind the handkerchief. "ih-ihh-eh-yih-EHTtttshphhh!" He fell forward at the force of the sneezes, still using the wall for support.
Gimli mumbled something Legolas did not catch. "You should go back to bed," Legolas finally heard him say.
"I ab all right," Legolas replied. "It is ode beal." He couldn't blame Gimli for fussing; he did sound awful. But he had no intention of staying out of bed longer than the one meal. One meal that he absolutely had to attend. He would not budge on that. However, timidly, "I could use your helb."
"That is precisely why I am here," Gimli said. "And it is why I will not let you alone until you are once again well." The dwarf put his arm around Legolas, letting the elf lean on him as a crutch.
Until they reached the main room on the first floor, they had not noticed what was happening outside the inn. Though it was strangely sunny, there was quite a snowfall going on. It bordered on blizzard, and Legolas felt a shiver creep up his spine at the memory of being stranded out there in the heavy snow, fierce wind, and intense cold. He much preferred sitting with Gimli by the fire or snuggling in bed, and felt grateful to be back inside where he could nurse his injury and his ailment.
The tables were packed with men when they arrived downstairs, but they budged over to make room for Legolas. Gimli managed to squeeze a chair in just beside the bench, at the end of the table where there were two men sitting already. Legolas had a biscuit with jam and something to drink, feeling a bit more thirsty than hungry in the end. And, most fortunately, a little more stuffy now than sneezy. He had a few close calls, however, when his nose began its fierce tickling quite suddenly. But Gimli had handkerchiefs, and Legolas had the good sense to bury his nose in the folds and then bury his head against Gimli's side or shoulder to keep from being a spectacle.
When he was not eating or sneezing, his eyes darted around, taking in the different parts of the room, only to find that the one man who would have stood out to him was most certainly nowhere to be found. As Gimli occupied himself refilling both their cups from the heavy, metal pitcher, Legolas risked the question he most wanted to ask. "Has adyode seed Aragord this bordig?" He sniffed and rubbed his nose ashamedly at the sound of the stuffiness.
No doubt the question had been understood, though, because conversation all around quieted down significantly. Few men met his eyes, and Legolas could practically smell the tension in the air. To his great surprise, it was Gimli who spoke up. "Tell us what you know," he said in his gruffest, meanest voice. "Where has the king gone?"
Several men began talking at once, and others jumped in to fill in details. The narrative was difficult to follow with so many storytellers, but both elf and dwarf got the gist of it. One of the search parties sent out to find the missing Aragorn and Legolas had apparently been labeled missing, themselves. Though all had been told to return by nightfall, or shortly thereafter if missing sunset could not be helped, the party was still out come this morning's sunrise. Aragorn had not taken the news particularly well, and Legolas now felt new measures of guilt for allowing this to happen.
The elf brought his legs up onto the bench with him, hugging them against his chest, and turned on the bench so that he could escape. He avoided use of his injured ankle as he stood and hopped a few paces away. Legolas was not heading for the door, but the stairs. Once he reached them, he could crawl or pull himself up on all fours as needed- anything to get to Aragorn's room.
Before he was halfway across the room, however, the familiar arm wrapped around his waist and a bushy brown head of hair forced itself under Legolas' arm, against his side. They exchanged looks, and Legolas read the concern and worry in Gimli's face, relieved to see that the worry was no longer entirely because of his ill elf. Sharing the same need to understand, they mounted the stairs with haste towards Aragorn's room.
A full minute of pounding on the door and calling out to the man came to naught. Without a care to privacy, Gimli turned the doorknob and was surprised to find it unlocked. The door was flung open and the room was surveyed by the pair. There was no Aragorn in sight, but there was "A note." Legolas, who was clinging to the doorjamb, foot lifted off the ground, pointed to a small slip of paper on the far side of the room atop the writing desk. Gimli retrieved it at once, frowning as he read it on his trip back. Legolas read over his shoulder and did not like what he saw.
"The fool's really going to get himself killed. What does he mean by going off on his own?"
"He feels guilty," said Legolas, knowingly. He gripped the dwarf's shoulder. "We bust go fide hib."
Gimli muttered something and pulled away. Their room was several doors down from Aragorn's room, and Gimli started down the hallway, leaving Legolas behind.
"Gibli!" Legolas called, hopping and hobbling after him.
Walking backwards towards their room, Gimli turned to face Legolas. "I have already been out looking for that man once," said Gimli. "And now I have you to look after." He gestured to the way Legolas was trying to move himself along, against the wall but nonetheless off balance. "As it should be clear that you cannot go, I will not either-"
"Gibli..." Legolas whispered, stopping in place. His cheek was pressed to the wall and a finger was pressed to his nose again. "Please? I need you to go because I cannot." Though the thought of re-bandaging his ankle and bundling up had occurred to him, he knew he would not make it more than an hour in the snow... though the reality was he probably would not make it out of the inn before Gimli stopped him.
The dwarf sighed and went to Legolas' side. They did not speak again until Legolas was in bed, tucked tightly under the blankets with a cool cloth on his forehead and a handkerchief in hand. Gimli hopped up onto the side of the bed and caressed Legolas' cheek. He tried to say something, but ended up just closing his mouth and shaking his head.
Legolas took his hand and looked straight at him.
"I won't be out long," said Gimli. "I will not go out alone like some people- daft idiot- and I will be home before dark with the missing men in tow." He kissed Legolas, his lips lingering a little too long. Gimli pulled back and smoothed Legolas' hair. "You must stay in bed."
"What if I deed to use the bathroob?" Legolas teased.
"If you get thirsty or want another blanket, I will make sure someone is around to bring things to you."
"What if what I wadt is you?"
Gimli stared him down. "You are making it difficult for me to leave."
Legolas lifted his head, catching Gimli in another kiss. "Fide theb. Brig hib hobe. Add thed get back idto bed with be." Legolas turned, aiming at his handkerchief. "ehhh-KTchhh! ehhChuhh! Ihhh... ihhhChehhh!"
Gimli gave him space enough to blow his nose and put on layers of warm clothes. Legolas knew that Gimli cared about Aragorn, but would not be going now if not for Legolas' urgings. He appreciated it but more than that, he was grateful he had Gimli. "Cub hobe safe."
"I will," Gimli promised.
Legolas tried his best to sleep. The longer he slept, the faster time would pass. Every moment awake was filled with worry. Every glance out the window at the snow made his stomach churn. However, he was too sniffly to fall asleep.
"Would you like more to drink?"
Legolas shook his head. If he had any more to drink, he would be able to float away on the sea without a boat. He rolled over onto his side, coughing. It felt very strange to have a man in his bedroom, watching him so closely... let alone someone he barely knew. "Could you give be a little tibe alode?" Legolas asked, feeling another sneeze coming on.
The man with salt and pepper hair and a determined look on his face shook his head. "Sorry. My shift does not end for another hour. And then Nealus is on watch."
There was a certain irony in the fact that the elf who usually took the watches because he did not need to sleep, was now trying to sleep under watch. "ihh-yihhh..." Legolas curled in on himself, clutching the handkerchief tightly to his face. "ehhKihtchh! ihhhHishhh!"
He wanted Gimli back to keep him warm and comfortable, to hold the handkerchief for him. And he told himself that he wanted Aragorn back safe and sound even more. However, that didn't make him feel any better. In fact, he felt much worse.
"ehh-EHShhh! ihChihh! Ihhh... hihShihh!" Legolas wiped his nose and held his hand to his forehead. It was throbbing and pounding, making him feel spacey and light-headed. Or perhaps that was just his fever. His limbs felt cold, so he held them close to his chest, but the rest of him felt so warm he wanted to strip his clothes off entirely. Of course, he could not do that with his present audience. "Baybe I will hab that water after all." The man, Reggelyn, got up and poured him some water.
With some effort, Legolas rolled onto his back. He squirmed about until he was in something of a sitting position, so that he might drink. But he pulled the covers up and pushed them down repeatedly, and he felt far worse sitting up than he had felt while lying down.
Reggelyn handed him the goblet of water, which at least kept Legolas' hands occupied for a few moments. He sipped and winced as even it stung his throat. The man seemed shocked to see such expression on the elf's face. Legolas gave him an apologetic look and then coughed and tried to pull the blankets back up again.
"You must be cold," the man reasoned. "Or..." He nervously reached up and pressed the back of his hand to Legolas' forehead. "You are warm to the touch."
Legolas nodded and swiped the back of his hand under his nose. Then he recovered the handkerchief which he'd left lying on his lap, and lifted it to his face. "ihhh-YIHShhh! Ihhihsh! ihhh..." It was the sneezes that took their time with him that he found to be the most annoying, and the most embarrassing. He let his nose twitch under the handkerchief as he felt a third sneeze building. His cheeks flushed and he kept his eyes tightly shut so he would not see the man's reaction. "ehhh... hehhh..." He could feel it right there, at the front of his face, ready to burst out of him, but it would not come. "ihhh-heh?" Were he around Gimli, he might have given up by now and lowered the handkerchief to let Gimli stroke his nose whisper something reassuring around a kiss. But now, all he could do was wait for the urge to either back down completely or overpower him. It took several moments for it to do the latter. "eeeeeihhh-Shehhh!"
"Bless you," said Reggelyn. Legolas gave his nose a hefty blow and folded the handkerchief before setting it back down again. "That must be one awful fever you have there." Legolas thought it probably was, though it wasn't entirely responsible for the redness in his cheeks. "Are you feeling worse than you did earlier today?"
The answer was an unequivocal yes. However, Legolas answered conservatively for fear of the consequences. "Berhabs a little worse." He was therefore surprised when Reggelyn looked visibly distressed. "Do dot worry," Legolas told him. "Gibli will dot burder you berely because I ab feelig boorly."
"Oh, I know," said the man. "Actually, it was not me but my first born that he threatened to dispatch of if I did not take the best care of you."
Legolas laughed, but he knew the man was only partially joking. Gimli would indeed be disappointed if he returned to find Legolas in a worse condition. And, as that was the case, Legolas wished very much that the dwarf would return now, before his cold progressed further. His head was in terrible pain and his nose... it was on the verge of dripping again.
With his free hand, he wiped his nose with the handkerchief, and gave another embarrassing blow. He wanted it to let him alone just a little while longer so that he could sleep or drink or something. Anything at all was better that sitting around feeling ill and waiting.
And worrying. If anyone could bring Aragorn back, it was Gimli. He had been the one to find them the day before, and between friendship and the desire to return home before nightfall, Gimli had more than enough incentive. But that did not mean the task would be entirely without risk. The snow was thick and still falling fast. And with so much ground to cover, the parties could easily miss each other. There was no telling how long it might be before they returned... if they returned.
The worry was doing absolutely nothing to help Legolas' condition. He drank down the last of the water he'd been brought, but did not set the goblet aside. Legolas rubbed his free hand up and down his arm. His arms ached dreadfully along with the rest of his body. "ehhhh..." He did not even feel well enough to hold a hand to his face this time. His eyes closed and his head spun just as it had when he had stood up too fast. "hehh-IHHHHHShh!HShhhhh!" The double-sneeze shook his body, sending pains shooting through him, which ended up in his head.
The goblet slipped from Legolas' fingers and hit the floor. He winced at the sound and intended to open his eyes and reach for it, but he could do neither thing. His nose was running, and he wanted his handkerchief. His head was throbbing and he wanted something cool for his forehead. He felt absolutely awful... and he wanted Gimli.
That wasn't Gimli, that was Reggelyn... who sounded so far away. It sounded as though Legolas were at the top of a very tall tree and the man were calling up to him through a dense fog. Legolas tried to pull his eyes open, but still could not. He managed to speak a few words in reply, but realized too late that they were in elvish and the man would not understand.
When Legolas tried to think of the words in English, he could not. He could not remember what he'd been trying to say, and he could not remember how to speak at all.
He heard his name again, even softer and farther away. Now that he wanted more than anything to stay awake for just a few more moments, he could do nothing to fight off the sleep. It took hold, and consciousness slipped away from him.
Minus the time it took to traverse the snowy wilderness, Gimli and the handful of men he'd brought with him found Aragorn and the missing search party in no time. The party had apparently gotten turned around in the blizzard without the aid of sun or stars to put them right again. Though they decided it best just to walk in one direction until they were clear of the woods, they had chosen the wrong direction. It took them towards the mountains instead of away from them. Aragorn had managed to track them, even in the snow. The man had had enough sense to direct them to a cave to take shelter until the worst of the snows stopped. Gimli, who was no stranger to caves, had thought to go there first.
They all walked back together in silence, staying close to one another so there would be no stragglers getting lost and to help brave the winds. Despite their proximity, however, Gimli practically refused to acknowledge Aragorn's presence, apart from initially determining that the man was safe and healthy.
The group made their triumphant, albeit nearly frozen, return to the inn just before sundown. Gimli was thrilled that he would be keeping his promise to Legolas, and could not wait to see the elf again. But he lingered in the main room a while, making sure all the men were accounted for. They were welcomed back with warm drinks and blankets, the former of which he gulped down in helpings until feeling returned to his toes. There were cheers and songs and a festive, roaring fire. There were hugs and smiles and well wishes. And there was one man heading to Gimli with a frown on his face.
"What is the matter?" Gimli asked, as his shivers slipped away. As he asked the question, however, he knew the answer.
"I am afraid Legolas has taken a turn for the worst."
Gimli wasted no time in racing up the stairs to their room. He found Legolas lying in bed, stripped of clothes down to his underthings. Though he was the very same elf Gimli had left that morning- same blond hair, same pale skin, same calm expression while sleeping- Legolas looked almost unlike himself in every other way. The spark within him was dim- not gone, but dim and fading quickly. "How long has he been like this?" Gimli asked, walking around the bed in one direction, then turning and making a semicircle around it in the other direction, all the while inspecting his elf. With the elf so weak and ill now, Gimli would have given anything to have Legolas awake and sneezing his head off.
The men had tried everything they knew of, but Legolas remained asleep and feverish. Every so often, Legolas stirred with discomfort or called out in elvish. In the end, they only thing the men could do was to try to make him comfortable. True to their words, however, Legolas had not been left alone.
The chair by the bed was vacated so that Gimli could sit there, and Gimli did indeed take the seat. "Legolas, I have returned to you. It is all right; you may wake now." Gimli spoke softly, reassuringly, but when Legolas did not wake, he was not surprised. He picked up Legolas' hand in both of his own. The slender fingers lay limply in Gimli's small hands, which were rough and still tingling and defrosting from the cold.
Gimli sensed movement and looked up, seeing Aragorn in the doorway. Aragorn shifted around uncertainly. Worry was on his face and the question was on his lips, but he would not ask. He could not. Gimli had made that perfectly clear.
With a deep breath, Gimli motioned for Aragorn to enter the room. "His fever is awfully high..."
Aragorn walked over with no further hesitation. He felt Legolas' forehead and nodded. "He is fighting it, but not quickly enough. I can put together some herbs that might bring it down."
Gimli's expression shone with gratitude. "I will make sure he takes them."
Not long after, Aragorn reappeared with a mixture of herbs for Legolas, and pints of warm ale for both himself and Gimli. With some difficulty, Gimli managed to prop Legolas up and pour a bit into his mouth. A few drops trickled out, but Legolas actually swallowed. With relief, Gimli poured more in and found that Legolas was actually awake and drinking.
There was a feeling like hammer striking anvil in Gimli's stomach as he saw Legolas' eyes flutter open. However, the gaze in those gentle eyes was beyond the dwarf, beyond even the room. He drank automatically, soundlessly. Then Gimli eased the elf back down. "Legolas?" Gimli washed his hand over Legolas' damp, hot forehead. "Mellon nin, I am here." He caressed Legolas' cheek. He picked Legolas' hand up again and squeezed it. But still Legolas did not recognize him.
It was an unnerving sight, to be sure. Gimli knew that elves frequently slept standing up or with their eyes open, but it was one thing to know that information and quite another to see it firsthand in a feverish elf. After a moment, the elf closed his eyes again, and Gimli's shoulders sunk with disappointment.
"It may be some time before the herbs take hold," Aragorn told him.
Gimli nodded and pressed Legolas' hand to his lips, sitting there in thought for a moment. Then he looked up at the man. "You must be exhausted, laddie." He nodded toward the corner. "Why don't you pull that chair over?"
Aragorn followed the suggestion, placing the chair at Legolas' bedside, just beside Gimli's. He pulled the blanket around his shoulders more tightly around himself, and before he could yawn, he saw Gimli do the same. "You look equally tired," said Aragorn. "Perhaps I should take the first watch."
Gimli paused, looking down at Legolas, then nodded. He slumped down in his chair, rested his chin and beard upon his chest, and closed his eyes. His breaths were heavy and slow. Before he fell asleep, however, he knowingly leaned to the side, against Aragorn. Aragorn waited a moment, then put his arm around the dwarf's shoulders.
The night was silent and still, cold and comfortless. Outside, there were no crickets nor frogs, no bats nor birds. There was no sound at all save that of the roaring wind. Inside, there were no conversations nor instructions. There was nothing except for the breaths of three warriors: one breathing the shallow and slow breaths of sleep, another breathing regularly and silently, and the third breathing with congestion and straining for air.
The latter became irregular and his body shook off sleep the way an ent might shake snow off a branch. Legolas opened his eyes to see his two closest and dearest friends sitting at his bedside. Aragorn had his arms crossed over his chest and head tilted back slightly, caught in a peaceful sleep. Gimli looked just as tired, but was fighting the onset of sleep.
The dwarf noticed Legolas only an instant later, and leaned forward, his hands attracted to Legolas' bare skin like a magnet. "Look who's awake." His smile was one of relief as well as greeting.
"Look who's here," replied Legolas, eyes flicking from Gimli to Aragorn and back again. He was shocked by the sound of his own voice, lower than usual and quite scratchy.
Gimli nodded and put one hand on Legolas' shoulder and the other on Aragorn's shoulder. Aragorn came awake after just a small shake on Gimli's part. He recognized the situation at once and rubbed a hand over his face. "How are you?" the man asked.
"I have beed better," said Legolas, plainly but stuffily.
Aragorn stood and stretched. Then he looked to Gimli and, at an approving nod, touched the back of his hand to Legolas' forehead. "I should go prepare another cup of tea for you to drink straightaway."
"It can wait a little while," Gimli said.
With a grateful smile, Aragorn shook his head and stifled a yawn. "Yes it can. However, there is no need for it to. I will go now." He patted Gimli's back and excused himself from the room, closing the door behind.
Through several silent moments, Legolas looked at Gimli and Gimli looked at Legolas. Then, all at once and with no sound exchanged between them, Legolas scooted over in bed just as Gimli climbed up onto the bed. Their arms wrapped around each other, chins upon shoulders and chest against chest. They were so comfortable, locked together, that they almost forgot their circumstances.
The simultaneous twitching of Legolas' ears and nose brought it all back to them, however. Breaths hitched and the elf snapped forward. "hehhh-Yihchhhhhh!" Legolas looked displeased and shook his head, raising his hand to his nose with a series of wet sniffles. "I am sorry. I did not mean to-"
Gimli chuckled. "Do not be. I'd almost forgotten how nice it was to have you sneezing again. I care not if you happen to catch my hand in the spray." He took his own handkerchief out of his pocket and lifted it to Legolas' nose. "Besides, I am sorry. I did not mean to-"
A laugh escaped Legolas, as he nuzzled his nose into the hanky. "Do not be. I'd almost forgotten how nice it was to have you here when I sneeze. I care not if you did not have a handkerchief at the ready." Legolas' hand reached up, slender, pale fingers encompassing the shorter, stubbier ones. At first, they helped the hanky stay in place as he forced powerful blows into it. But then his fingers remained there, stroking Gimli's hand affectionately.
There was a smile from the dwarf, who cocked his head and looked at the elf with equal amounts of affection. Gimli pulled his legs beneath him to raise himself up slightly, just enough so that he could lean forward. His lips closed around Legolas' earlobe. He nuzzled, the tip of his nose brushing against the ridge of the elf's ear. But then he realized the point of Legolas' ear was twitching. The elf's breaths were normal yet, but would not be for long. "All right," Gimli whispered into the elf's ear.
"ihh-sneh... sneeze?" asked Legolas, muffled by the handkerchief they still held to his nose.
The whisper was deep, sensual. "Aye. Sneeze."
Legolas sneezed and sneezed and sneezed some more. "ihhh-Yihshhh! ihhChhh! Ehh-Ihktchhh! ehhhTchhhh! hehhKershhh! ershhhh! Ihh-yihChehh! ehhChehh!" At that point, Gimli eased Legolas down against the pillows. As Legolas continued to sneeze, Gimli continued to kiss Legolas' ear, wiggles and all. It sent shivers down Legolas' spine, which was awful torture to the poor, sneezy elf who was in no place to refuse the touch. "ihhh-Yihchh! IHtchh! hih-hih-ehkshuhh! Ehhchuhh! yih-ihhh-ihhhKshhh! Hshuhh!"
Gimli massaged Legolas' nose beneath the dampening hanky. They waited out the sneezes together, Legolas' body shaking so that it nearly came off the bed each time. Gimli moved close, putting his leg over one of Legolas' holding Legolas down while still holding the handkerchief.
"ehhIHSchh! Yihkttttt ehktttt!" Legolas's sneezes tapered out thanks to another strong blow, then he exhaled his deepest of breaths, which caused a few coughs but was worth it to express the relief of a few sneeze-free moments. Then he reached to pull up a blanket and snuggled into the dwarf.
Their bodies fit together as if they had been made for each other, as perhaps they had been. "Gibli?"
"Right here," said Gimli reassuringly, his voice soft in Legolas' ear. "Is your nose tingling again?"
"Something is tingling," he replied, his eyes glowing with mischief along with a touch of fever.
Gimli chuckled, shaking his head. Tempting as it was- and it was unimaginably temping- Gimli simply could not take advantage of his ill elf. "It will have to wait until you are recovered, love."
Legolas' smile spread throughout him, from the corners of his mouth to his eyes and his disposition. "You need some ale."